(Reuters) - American journeyman Vaughn Taylor, making a long-awaited return to form, birdied five of his last seven holes to rocket into a tie for the lead in Thursday's opening round of the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut.

Taylor, whose 2016 campaign has veered between the brilliant and the frustrating, fired a six-under-par 64 on a sunny day at TPC River Highlands to set the tournament pace with compatriots Andrew Loupe and Jerry Kelly.

Spaniard Jon Rahm, competing in his fifth PGA Tour event since turning professional in June, eagled the par-five 13th on the way to a 65, ending the round level with Australian Marc Leishman and American Ben Martin.

Twice Masters champion Bubba Watson, who won the Travelers Championship for a second time last year at one of his most treasured venues, launched his title defense with a 67.

"I hit a lot of quality shots and hit a lot of greens, which you need to do around here," Watson told reporters after being grouped with Matt Kuchar (69) and Patrick Reed (70), who will join him on the U.S. Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro next week.

"We're good friends and we had a blast out there. Having a pairing like that, no matter if we were going to Rio or not, it's a fun pairing."

Taylor, who has missed nine cuts on the PGA Tour since clinching his third career victory on the U.S. circuit at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, caught fire on his back nine after reaching the turn in one-under 34.

With his approach play in sparkling order, he reeled off five consecutive birdies from the par-four 12th to surge up the leader board.

"I hit a good fairway bunker shot on nine, hit a good putt there and just kind of got things going," Taylor, 40, told PGA Tour Radio.

"I was feeling good ... you just get on a run sometimes and just kind of ride it."

Taylor could certainly do with an extended run of good form, having finished no better than joint 33rd since he ended a PGA Tour title drought of more than a decade with his Pebble Beach win.

"I thought coming out of Pebble my game was ready but it just wasn't quite there," said Taylor, who missed five successive cuts after his triumph in February.

"I thought I was just going to keep it rolling but that's golf, just when you think you've got it, you've got to re-assess. It's good this week ... hopefully it will keep going."

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)